Category Archives: Literature

In the Book Basket

Jane is reading some of the books on the House of Education’s Year 7 list this fall. House of Education, in case you don’t know, is the upper-grades companion to Ambleside Online. I’ve been drawing heavily from Ambleside’s booklists since Jane was five years old. Beanie, six and a half, is making the acquaintance of some of Jane’s old friends this year: The Blue Fairy Book (my childhood copy, actually, fearfully dogeared and dearly loved), Just So Stories, Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children. Writing these titles makes me almost giddy: I love this literature; I love living these books with my girls.

One of the HOE books Jane is reading—and I too, for it was new to me, and I’m doing my best to pace her these days—is H. E. Marshall’s English Literature for Boys and Girls. The stodgy title belies the fun inside this book. Marshall is the author of Our Island Story, a fat and lively rendering of the history of England, through which my girls and I have been slowly making our way in fits and starts, for oh, at least two years now. I enjoy Marshall’s narrative style: the colorful character sketches, the dramatic flair, the occasional intrusions of a twinkle-in-the-eye authorial voice. I’m encountering that same amiable voice in the English lit book, which makes my ‘homework’ a most enjoyable pastime.

Of course, by opening the book with several chapters about Irish and Scottish legends, Marshall had me at hello. Jane writes out most of her narrations these days, but I asked her to tell me the story of the Cattle Raid of Cooley (chapter two of Marshall’s book) for the fun of seeing how well she could spin a yarn. She did a bang-up job, with all the little embellishments that rope a listener in. I don’t know which one of us enjoyed it more: there’s a great satisfaction in telling a tale well, and an immense delight in being treated to a tale well told. We’ll have to do this more often. I needn’t be the only storyteller around here.

Both the Marshall books I mentioned (and a good many others) are available for free downloading (chapter by chapter) at The Baldwin Project, a site about which I have raved before. Some of them can be ordered in inexpensive hard-copy editions as well.

I Love When It All Comes Together

I’d love to take credit for planning the trip down the lovely little path the kids and I are following at the moment, but I can’t. The trail appeared before us and we set forth, that’s all. It started with Our Island Saints, a book I’d ordered from Yesterday’s Classics last year.

No, wait, I guess it really started with my decision to take a cue from the Waldorf folks and keep "saints and heroes" in mind as a kind of over-arching theme for Rose and Beanie this year. An umbrella, if you will, to provide some shelter from the chaos of our move. Our Year of Saints & Heroes. It has a nice high-tide sound to it, though of course you know we’ll be spending much of this year in the lowest of low tides. And that’s fine. We thrive on low tide around here.

(Hey! Just occurred to me! I get to add actual BEACH experience to my whole Tidal Homeschooling thing! You SEE the lengths to which I will go in order to flesh out a metaphor for you?)

Anyway. Our Island Saints, I was saying. We started with St. Brigid of Ireland because she is special to my family, and also she is the patron saint of scholars and babies. Before I began reading (this was one day last week), I printed out some pictures for the kids to color: pictures of the saint for the younger girls, a complicated Celtic knot for Jane.

I read part of the story (it’s long) and a good deal of it was about how kind and generous Brigid was to the poor, how she’d give away her bread to any ragged stranger she passed on the road. That reminded me of a poem I love—Alice chose it for the first post on her blog last year—and I sent Jane to fetch The Harp and Laurel Wreath so we could read it together. It is "An Old Woman of the Roads" by Padraic Colum, and it begins like this:

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!

The poor, bereft, wandering old woman: she could use a Brigid in her life.

After we read it and talked about it, I got a little goose-bumpy, because I remembered that Padraic Colum is the author of the VERY NEXT BOOK I had planned for a read-aloud. It’s called The King of Ireland’s Son, and if you’ve never read it, you’ve got to treat yourself to the rollicking, lilting (hey!) adventure of it. Sure and ’tis as fine a bit o’ storytellin’ as ivver I’ve seen. Weaving together the strands of old Irish tales, Colum creates a rich and riotous tapestry of princes and enchanters, cats and kings, monsters and maidens, songs and swords.

Like this:

"…the youth
I’m telling you about did nothing but ride and hunt all day.
Well, one morning he rode abroad—

"His hound at his heel,

His hawk on his wrist;

A brave steed to carry him whither he list,

And the blue sky over him,

"and he rode on until he came to a turn in the road.  There he saw a gray old man seated on a heap of stones playing a game of cards with himself. First he had one hand winning and then he had the other. Now he would say ‘That’s my good right,’ and then he would say ‘Play and beat that, my gallant left.’
The King of Ireland’s Son sat on his horse to watch the strange old man…"

Irresistible, I’m telling you.

And so,

with my babe in my lap

and my boy at my knee,

and my big girls before me as rapt as can be,
and the boxes all around us,

we are off on another adventure, and fie to the packing.

All Roads Lead to Rome (Even for Bunnies)

The Sabine Women, Jacques-Louis David, 1796-99

Over at Bonny Glen I’ve been talking about the connections my kids are making during our read-aloud of Famous Men of Rome. This is for me one of the best things about homeschooling: watching the light bulbs go off, seeing pieces of the big puzzle of Life, the Universe, and Everything fit together in the kids’ minds.

We just started reading this book last week. Today Romulus finished building his city and then had to do a little creative marketing to find inhabitants. On the lam? Facing criminal charges? Australia doesn’t exist yet, so give Rome a try! It’s got a wall and everything! River views available. The world has never had a shortage of scruffy, disenfranchised males, it seems, for a paragraph later Romulus’s town is bustling with happy outlaws. Oops, not so happy after all: it seems no women answered the cattle call.

I get this far in the reading and Rose gasps. "It’s like the rabbits!" she shouts. For some reason, connections must always be shouted around here. "It’s like Watership Down!"

Scott is reading them Watership Down at bedtime. Last night they reached the part where Hazel & Co. have just gotten nicely settled into their digs on the down, and they suddenly realize their new warren has no future if they don’t find some nice lady rabbits to join them. Rose is right: it’s the founding of Rome all over again.

The bunnies, however, are a little more gentlemenly with the ladies, as my girls will discover a few nights hence. When I continue the early Romans’ tale, the kids are outraged by the abduction of the Sabine women. Then Beanie says, "Hey, this remembers me of a movie," and Jane shouts, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers!" That charts our course for the rest of the morning: we hunt for the DVD and eventually remember where we left it. A short bike ride to the neighbors’ house later, Jane is brandishing the movie in triumph and we eat lunch to the tune of "And the women were sobbin’, sobbin’, sobbin’…"

The last week of May might seem like a strange time to start a history read-aloud. We don’t keep a traditional school-year schedule; we tend to follow a seasonal rhythm with our studies. For the new readers who are just getting to know me here at ClubMom, I thought it might be helpful if I gave a bit of background on our homeschooling style. Here’s how I have explained it before:

People often ask me what kind of homeschoolers we are: Classical? Charlotte Mason? Eclectic? Delight-Directed? Unschoolers? How, they want to know, does learning happen in our home? Am I in charge, or do I let the kids lead the way? And what about math?

Over the years I have written with enthusiasm about the Charlotte Mason method (which is highly structured) and unschooling (which is not). These educational philosophies seem to have intertwined themselves in my home, so that the what we do—read great books, study nature, dive deeply into history, immerse ourselves in picture study and composer study—is highly influenced by Charlotte’s writings and their modern counterparts; and the how we do it—through strewing and conversation and leisurely, child-led exploration—is influenced by the writings of John Holt, Sandra Dodd, and other advocates of unschooling. But I couldn’t say we’re "real CMers" because I don’t carry out Miss Mason’s recommendations in anything like the structured manner she prescribed; and I probably do too much behind-the-scenes nudging for us to be considered "real unschoolers."

The truth is, I couldn’t find any label that completely fit my family, so I made up my own. I call us "Tidal Learners" because the ways in which we approach education here change with the tide. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re flighty or inconsistent, changing direction haphazardly. We aren’t Fiddler Crab Homeschoolers. What I mean is that there is a rhythm to the way learning happens here; there are upbeats and downbeats; there is an ebb and flow.

Lately I have been reading a lot about Latin-centered classical education, and I am increasingly convinced of the merits of steady and intensive Latin studies. Because we have such a relaxed approach to the rest of our learning, it is no burden to make Latin lessons a regular part of our day. When planning our family routine—whether it’s the summer routine revolving around the neighborhood swimming pool or the winter routine which must allow for abrupt changes of plan in the event of good sledding weather—I keep a loose "rule of six" in the back of my mind. There are six things I try to make a part of every day:

• meaningful work (this includes household chores, which are "meaningful" because they make our own and others’ lives more pleasant; it also includes pursuits requiring daily practice, such as piano and, yes, Latin; and of course for Scott and me, writing is meaningful work)
• good books 
• beauty (art, music, nature)
• big ideas (discussions about what we’re reading or encountering in the world)
• play (including time spent with friends)
• prayer

Honesty compels me to admit that for myself I privately add a seventh component to my daily Rule of Six:

• a footrub from my incredibly sweet husband

Oh, and also:

• chocolate.

But for the family as a whole, the top six items are what shape our days. So this summer, Romans and Sabines and Latin and bunnies will be waiting for us whenever we come home from the pool.